WAMM members Anne and David Winkler-Morey have been biking the country since June of 2011. They have shared their observations during this trip on a blog. All the entries over the months are interesting, but this perspective, one we don’t often get, on immigration and workers rights in Texas and New Mexico, along with conditions in the border cities of El Paso and Juarez.
January 28-29 Anthony to Las Cruces/ Las Cruces to Hatch.
Woke up this morning and checked my phone. On it there was a notification from Marie Gonzales of the Immigrant Youth Justice League in Chicago – a facebook invitation to National Come Out of the Shadows Day, March 10 2012– “a day when undocumented people will come out and say “I am undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.”
Yesterday on the way to Las Cruces we stopped at the Pecan outlet store of Stahmanns Pecan plantation, to use the bathroom. In addition to selling pecans, plain, sweet, savory or pica, they had a video that detailed the pecan operation from planting to processing. The video showed that much of the process is mechanized: a truck with a mechanical arm shakes the trees at harvest time, machines sort, remove debris and shell the nuts.
75 years ago Texas native Emma Tenayuca organized Pecan shellers in San Antonio into a powerful union, acrononym: UCAPAWA. The union struggle was notable because those organized came from three categories that the U.S. labor movement had ignored: agricultural workers, Mexican Americans, and women. In 1937 12,000 pecan shellers went out on strike after the companies announced a reduction in wages. After the strike much of the shelling process was mechanized. But not all.
The Stahmanns video also showed that each step of the way there are workers, planting, watering, sweeping behind machines, monitoring sorting, providing quality control. And when it comes to the final step of processing, a large number of workers are involved.
Among pecan plantations in this region Stahmanns is reportedly the only one that provides workers with housing while they are employed there. In most of the pecan orchards and pepper, and onion fields in this region, workers get on buses in El Paso or Juarez and then return at night, crossing the border on a daily basis, or living in shelters or on the street in El Paso.
There are 30,000 farmworkers working in New Mexico. At least. People involved in serving and advocating for farmworkers here think the number is much larger. Efforts over the last few years to get the federal government to do a demographic study have come up short.
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Right now we are in Hatch, “Chile capital of the world.” What else is here? Border patrol. We went through a patrol stop on hwy 185 between Las Cruces and Hatch. They waved us through. They had a billboard that said
We are hiring!!!! (exclamation marks included). The picture showed an outline of men in cowboy hats on horses. “The last of the wild wooly west.”
Friends, this is not border patrol it is worker control!
I found an article about conditions in the Las Cruces region, written one year ago, that quoted my advisor and friend Dionicio Valdes. He said these are Great Depression era conditions for farmworkers in New Mexico. People are working part time, in several places trying to piece together a living. The more spread out and temporary workers are, the harder it is to organize. And if people are forced into the shadows by our immigration policy they are that much more vulnerable.
The so called recession has meant that many of us outside of agricultural work find out selves working for industries adopting the farmworker template –temporary, part time positions that makes fighting for our rights so much harder.
Now not only eaters need to be concerned about farm-work conditions. The 99% that work for a living need to also.
Time for another UCAPAWA. For all of us. With youth leaders like Maria Gonzales of Chicago following in the footsteps of EmmaTenayuca–organizing those that others have ignored–I have hope.
Back at the dinner in Marfa I asked Eliot Shapleigh and Ray Caballaro—the former Texas State Senator and former Mayor of El Paso, to describe the political situation in El Paso to me. They said:
“El Paso, a city of 800,000, is a microcosm of the all problems and possibilities you will find inTexas. Because of its geographical isolation and the fact that it is 85% Hispanic, it is ignored by the rest of the state.” Eliot also pointed out that the city is deeply affected by the violence in their Twin City across the border; over 8,000 people killed in the last five years in Ciudad Juarez.
1/26: ARTISTS REFLECT ON EL PASO AND JUAREZ
Last night Michael and Carla took us up Franklin Mountain to view the night lights of the cities. It is a magnificent sight. From this vantage point Paso del Norte is one massive, glowing, peaceful, city, in one valley, ringed by mountains.
Carla is an interior artist. We were very fortunate to be able to go with her and Michael to the University of Texas El Paso faculty art exhibit. Two of the artists directly addressed the violence in Juarez and its influence on El Paso. The work of Anne M.Giangiulio:
–A three foot photograph of Ciudad Juarez viewed from a Peak inEl Paso with these words in giant letters: DEAR JUAREZ: I SEE YOU EVERY DAY. SORRY I HAVEN’T ACTUALLY VISITED SINCE 2007.
–A 150 year old photograph of Benito Juarez, the 19th century Mexican president for whom the city is named, with one drop of blood in the shape of a tear coming out of his eye.
–A graph measuring numbers killed inJuarez since 2006 per year with the rising numbers depicted as blood streaks made by fingers.
The work of Antonio Castro H.
–The head of Benito Juarez in a pool of blood.
–A bloody hand holding a joint and the words: HOW MANY MUST DIE SO YOU CAN GET HIGH? And in small letters at the bottom: “Put impunity of business: boycott drugs.”
–A Light bulb with a cockroach forming a face. The words BOYCOTT DRUGS , BOYCOTT BULLETS, PUT IMPUNITY OUT OF BUSINESS and then at the bottom a reference to the cucaracha song: YA NO PUEDE CAMINAR. (Now you are not able to walk.)
–A two-mouthed serpent intertwined around a gun and a marijuana joint and the words: BILATERAL DAMAGE.
These last three works argue that the violence inJuarezis fed by U.S.drug use and U.S.gun sales so we in the U.S are culpable and can take action to stop the violence.
Another work did not move me at first, until I moved away from it and happened to glance back. It was a wall size quilted curtain with tan design on the bottom, blue on top and a black stripe in the middle, widest at one end and tapering toward the other—the desert, the blue sky…. and the wall.
1/26: FARM WORKERS IN FAR WEST TEXAS
We had a lovely dinner with Michael and Carla. Michael, is the Assistant County Attorney in El Paso and spent many years working for Texas Legal Services representing farm workers. About conditions of farmworkers in this part of Texas Michael said: “they get paid by the bushel and usually make about $2 an hour, the same wage farmworkers were making in this region in the 1980s. Many of them are people who came to United States in the 1980s, gained citizenship during Reagans’ amnesty, and have been working in Texas fields ever since. While most of us get raises if we stay in one business for our work life, these workers have seen their real wages decline steadily.”
I asked about unionization. Michael was emphatic. “Not in Texas”.
Michael told us the National Labor Relations Board protects the right of all workers to organize EXCEPT farmworkers. “In California, the United Farmworkers successfully organized to pass a state labor relations law that includes farmworkers, but not here.”
One of the reasons it is so tough to prosecute employers who abuse their workers is that that workers do not get hired by an employer. A contractor recruits workers, and transports them in a bus to a different field every day. The worker does not know who they are working for, and often sleeps on the bus and has no idea where they are.
Crops from this corner of Texas and New Mexico include peppers, onions, cilantro –the pico de gallo fields– as well as pecans and grapes. Cotton too, of course, but cotton harvesting is mechanized now.
Michael told us we would see these fields as we headed north toward Las Cruces, “but given the time of year you will not see workers in the field. The season begins in early March.”